(LEAD) Seeking redemption in Hangzhou, S. Korea launches record Asian Games delegation

South Korea began its quest for redemption at the Asian Games on Tuesday, launching a record delegation for the competition in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) held the team launch ceremony at the Olympic Park in Seoul, with hundreds of athletes on hand.

South Korea plans to send 867 athletes, and 273 coaches and officials in 39 out of 40 sports contested at the 19th Summer Asiad. It is South Korea's largest-ever athletic delegation to the continental competition. Postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hangzhou Asian Games will run from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8.

"This year's Asian Games will mark the new beginning for South Korean sports," KSOC President Lee Kee-heung said. "We have been making progress in many different sports and have seen the emergence of young athletes. I can't wait to see our athletes tackle challenges at this year's Asian Games."

Lee called on athletes to represent the country well away from their competition.

"I hope our athletes will see their hard work and dedication pay off," Lee added. "We at the KSOC will spare no efforts to create an environment where our athletes will be able to focus on their competition without distractions."

When marking the 30-day countdown to the Asian Games on Aug. 24, the KSOC said South Korea's goal is to finish in third place in the medal race, behind China and Japan, with about 45 to 50 gold medals.

It was an unusually modest, if realistic, goal for one of Asia's sporting powers.

South Korea had finished in second place behind China at every Asian Games from 1998 to 2014, but the streak ended in 2018 in Indonesia, where South Korea ended in third behind China and Japan with 49 gold medals. It was South Korea's lowest Asiad gold medal tally since 1982.

South Korea also finished 26 gold medals behind Japan in 2018, and the KSOC's goal is to cut that deficit by as many as 10.

After the ceremony, the KSOC announced that male fencer Gu Bon-gil and female swimmer Kim Seo-yeong will be South Korea's flagbearers at the opening ceremony on Sept. 23.

Gu, 34, is one of the most decorated Asian Games fencers, with five gold medals and one silver medal. He will chase his fourth consecutive gold in the men's individual sabre event in Hangzhou.

Kim, 29, is the defending Asian Games champion in the women's 200-meter individual medley. She won the gold medal then with a time of 2:08.34, both the Asian Games record and the South Korean national record.

Choi Yoon, president of the Korea Rugby Union who will serve as the head of the South Korean delegation in Hangzhou, said the athletes will try to return fans' unwavering support with great performances all around.

"I hope the value of the sweat that our athletes have shed will not simply be defined by the colors of their medals," Choi said. "I would like our fans to feel happy just by watching our athletes give their best in their respective sports."

Sports Minister Park Bo-gyoon read a congratulatory message by President Yoon Suk Yeol, who expressed his pride and joy of watching hardworking athletes.

"Despite the challenge of having the competition postponed by a year, I am sure our athletes will bring people so much joy with their passion," Yoon said, according to the minister. "I will join the rest of the nation in cheering you on. The government will continue to support elite sports and improve the welfare of athletes, and make sure our athletes' hard work will bear fruit."

Source: Yonhap News Agency